Archive for Italy

South of Otranto

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on May 27, 2017 by cliffdean


Cross country

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on May 18, 2017 by cliffdean

We’ve  been walking in Catalonia & Puglia. Back now in the rolling green of Sussex,where upcoming RXbirdwalks are as follows:

Saturday 20th: Brede High Woods
I’d hoped to organise a Nightingale walk one evening this coming week but Events have intervened. On Saturday, however, in daylight hours they might still be singing and if not there will be a chorus of many other woodland birds as well as beautiful fresh foliage.
(Evening walk for Nightingales)

This depends on weather conditions and,of course, Events. Another evening might work out better, so watch this space.

Saturday 27th: Dengemarsh

There should be good oportunities to see Hobbies, Marsh Harriers, probably Bittern as well as the great variety of waterbirds present around this part of the RSPB reserve. A chance too to see if you can still distinguish Sedge & Reed Warblers by song, pick out Whitethroats in song flight and track down Lesser Whitethroat.

 If you would like to join uson any of these walks please email me on

A dark day in Downland

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on December 23, 2016 by cliffdean


Via Cacciatori del Sile is on the one-way system not far from Treviso station. In the mid-70s it was, by day, an ordinary residential street but by night busy with cars cruising for rent-boys, many of whom were underpaid soldiers from the city’s barracks. Two girls from the Oxford School of English invited me for lunch at their flat there one day, having made an expedition to the Pescheria, armed with a useful book which would help them to both identify and prepare the seafood on sale there.


It emphasises the cultural distance between then and now that I was only just encountering for the first time items such as radicchio & pesto or dishes now commonplace such as Spaghetti alla Carbonara & Tiramisu. I was all too aware of how reverently my Italian friends approached their food but this was the first English book I’d seen which dealt with the subject at the same level of seriousness. What’s more, it was written in a style at once elegant, unpretentious and informative.


That lunch was the first occasion I’d eaten cape sante & cape lunghe but, more influentially, the first time I’d heard of Elizabeth David. The forceful ink cover illustration by Renato Guttoso looked a bit crude and old-fashioned but was so much part of the package that, when the book was re-issued a few years ago with a plain cover it just didn’t seem right.

Over the years since, I’ve returned to these yellowing pages for a few recipes or to dip into commentaries on certain themes. I like the modesty of its scale and personality compared with more recent celebrity offerings.


It was only a few months ago that I learnt David was buried at Folkington, just yards from the woodland clearing where we’d parked for Downland walks and determined to pay my respects on the next occasion I passed that way. In the meantime, I discovered she’d had an interesting life so ordered the book by Artemis Cooper, whose biography of Patrick Leigh Fermor I’d previously enjoyed.

The walk, planned for the Solstice, was advanced by a day in view of a dire weather forecast for Wednesday and got off to a good start when I blithely misread the map & set off on a route which added a couple of miles to the expected itinerary. No matter – we skirted through Friston Forest down to Litlington and along the river up to Alfriston before heading off across the fields towards Wilmington, where we planned to eat. We visit that area with sufficient infrequency to render memorable historic walks with family & friends. Since the grey midwinter day had never really got light, a tasty lunch and extended conversation at The Giant’s Rest projected the latter part of our circuit into failing light as we followed hollow lanes incised by a million feet and hooves towards Folkington.


Cooper’s fluent, conversational style makes for easy reading but my memory is so bad that by the time we arrived at sunset in the churchyard I struggled to recall the familial relationships of various Gwynnes commemorated on the slabs


Elizabeth David’s freestanding headstone is distinctive however, for the lively and affectionate carving of those ingredients which typify her love of Mediterranean Food (her first book), surrounding a capacious marmite.



More recent reading: everyone’s heard of Lawrence of Arabia but what about Gertrude Bell? Her life was so exotic, adventurous and influential, yet unfulfilled, that it would make a fantastic film. Then I discovered that Werner Herzog had just made it!! My misgivings when I saw that Bell is played by Nicole Kidman are borne out by some reviews, but it might be worth a watch.



Via Francigena #2

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on May 20, 2016 by cliffdean
























Via Francigena #1

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on May 2, 2016 by cliffdean
















Colonna sonora

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on March 26, 2016 by cliffdean

It was the truth when I wrote in a review of our B&B in Rome that we awoke to the sound of birds rather than traffic noise. I failed to specify, however, that the birds in question were Yellow-legged Gulls which went KOKOKOKOKOKOKyeeOOWW! from the rooftops at break of day.


I had been impressed by the inclusion of these birds’ calls in the dawn rooftop scene of La Grande Bellezza because I had not understood their predominance in the city’s everyday soundtrack.


The second species to fire up at dawn, subtle by comparison, was the similarly ubiquitous Hooded Crow, then some time later Great Tits and crooning Blackbirds.


Though I heard none of the Robins which feature frequently in the film – their early-morning innocence serenading the homebound playboy – mellifluous Blackcap song backed up by chattering of Wrens issued from evergreen courtyards along with the throbbing of amorous Feral Rock Doves.




As we waited for the tram, silvery Firecrest song and the sizzling of invisible Serins came down from Holm Oaks overhanging the busy street.


In the pine-shaded parks they were joined by Short-toed Treecreepers & Greenfinches though it was the shrieking bands of dazzling green Ring-necked & Monk Parakeets that caught tourists’ attention.


Black Redstarts quivered from broken columns and fallen arches while high above the waving selfie-sticks Kestrels cackled from the ancient brickwork.



Considering the vast numbers of wild beasts slaughtered at the Colosseum, few of their bones have been recovered. Nor does there seem to be any evidence for the martyrdom of Christians there.




Jeb, the film’s protagonist shows little interest in, but perhaps some appreciation of, the bird song (Song Thrush, Blackcap, Robin) that accompanies him, as fresh as the water he splashes from a wayside fountain.


He fails to register Peregrines wickering from a crumbling aqueduct, no doubt distracted by the naked performance artist about to bash her head against it.


 Nonetheless he scores a remarkable Roof-garden Tick when he discovers a flock of migrant Flamingos roosting on his city-centre balcony.




Bones, ashes, shards & guts

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on March 20, 2016 by cliffdean


Although the ruins of Ancient Rome have been cleaned of vegetation (much to the regret of those who read the accounts of early travellers there who found heroic, shaggy architecture projecting from lumpy farmland) the briefest exposure to them leads into an endless entanglement of cultural associations.

Not far from here, in Brightling churchyard, stands the steep-sided tomb of John Fuller. I’d never previously noticed just how steep-sided it was; I always assumed the model to be Egyptian.


Now I realise it’s much more likely, especially in view of its date, to take its inspiration from the pyramid mausoleum of Caius Septimus (18-12 BC) (its own pointy design maybe based on Nubian monuments), embraced by red bricks of the later Aurelian Wall (271-5 AD) which stands by a busy roundabout not far from Ostiense stations (itself unaccountably generous for today’s rail traffic until you learn it was built to welcome Hitler into the city in 1938…)


Beyond those walls it used to be open country, partly dedicated to those activities excluded from the city itself. By the early 19th century those included the interment of non-Catholic northerners attracted to Rome by duty, light or archaeology but having the misfortune (or good fortune) to die there, along with rather a lot of their children.


The principal object of pilgrimage in the cemetery’s older, less crowded part is the anonymous grave of John Keats – a “YOUNG ENGLISH POET”, victim of a familial strain of consumption, over in the corner of a lawn patrolled by plump and arrogant cats, beneath dark cypresses inhabited by Serins & Firecrests. Black Redstarts quiver on the ancient brickwork  of the wall from beyond which comes the rumble of city traffic and the howling chorus of rooftop Yellow-legged Gulls.




Shelley’s ashes were eventually removed here, though to the congested new section, following the cremation of his rotting, drowned body on the beach at Lerici.


Besides the soldiers, diplomats, politicians, hedonistic gentry and sickly Grand Tourists there are buried painters, sculptors, linguists, optimistic convalescents and those who met an unexpected end in the Tiber: a group of mariners, a 16-year-old girl swept off her horse.


Leaving the shadow, warbling Blackbirds and grating Sardinian Warblers of the graveyard, you turn down some steps onto the cobbles of a shabby, graffitied back-street, lined with single-storey shanties. No tourists, no pilgrims, no selfies. Feeling a bit dodgy actually.


The scrub rising behind the squalid, impromptu buildings covers one of the biggest waste-heaps in the world: millions and millions of amphorae mounded up over some centuries. Monte Testaccio, the last resting place of Dressel 20 vessels in which olive oil had been shipped to the hungry city from southern Spain. Whereas most amphorae were reused this type, for reasons of contamination and structure, it seems, were simply discarded. Not all that simply – it was done in a very organised way.

This article gives an excellent overview of the logistics involved in building Monte Testaccio and places it within the context of World Dumps, their management and rehabilitation.


Dressel 20 is bottom left, I believe.


At some point, it was discovered that the porous shard-filled hill maintained an even interior temperature which was just right for keeping wine cool and so sprang up a ring of bars supplied from cantine bored through strata of terracotta.

The Roman Campagna from Monte Testaccio, Sunset 1819 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856


Then across the road is a fine neo-classical facade – topped by a crumbling cherub overpowering a justifiably resistant bull – also graffitied but in clear process of restoration – which turns out to have been the city slaughterhouse.


Behind the archway you see the stockades which once sheltered doomed beasts from the sun, and the overhead trackway designed to transport their carcasses from one part to another.


The installation is undergoing redevelopment, part of which is an arts centre which includes a music school.


P.S. Once I had published this post, people complained. “The title mentions guts but upon these you are silent. We’d like to know more about guts.”

I just forgot. It was taking too long. By implication the guts would be to do with the Mattatoio and so they are. Slaughtermen were paid in offal from which the rich Roman legacy of typical dishes descends, as explained interestingly in this article. Did I try any of them? Nope; I grew up in a generation only slightly less spoilt than my children. My mum, just one generation back, would eat chitterlings, hearts. brawn, kidneys, liver & black pudding. I continue to (uneasily) consume the last two.

The adjacent plot has been developed into a nice new market selling such grim stuff but also more photogenic vegetables.


“But, why, with all the glories of Rome to choose from, do you write about an old dump?” Well, it’s because it surprised me. Since I’d not been to Rome for many years there must be many other surprises lying in wait. The famous bits are so over-exposed that they’re hard to see clearly. The baroque churches I find heavy & bombastic (though making the Caravaggios they house look shockingly original and authentic).

There were, oddly enough, no other tourists the morning we went to Testaccio and, though it’s being gentrified quickly enough, the sequence down from Piramide retains the raw incongruity of Edgelandia.